Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

It’s true! You can reduce your grocery bill, and enjoy better and healthier food in the bargain.

| February/March 2009

Everybody eats, and what you eat is getting more expensive all the time. By September 2008, food prices had risen 13 percent in just three years — to about $165 a week, or $8,580 a year on average for two-income families that include two to three people. Can you really cut a grocery bill that size n half? You bet you can, and in the process you will also improve the overall quality and security of your food supply.

It should come as no surprise that cooking at home is a huge step in the right direction, and it may require less time than you think. Growing some of your own food is a big help, too, whether you are growing a garden or investing some volunteer time with a community garden, school garden or CSA (community-supported agriculture, a system where members receive produce directly from a farm). But first there is another matter to address, which most people find about as pleasurable as stepping on the scale. You must take an honest look at where your food dollars are going now.

If you save your receipts from groceries and eating out for a few weeks, you’ll have all the data you need to start making plans. As you study your bread crumb trail of information, make notes on your buying patterns. These tend to vary wildly from one household to another. When a team of researchers from the University of Utah analyzed the food buying patterns of more than 10,000 Americans, they found that only about 30 percent fell into the desirable “balanced” diet category — people who tended to buy fresh food to cook and eat at home, with occasional meals enjoyed out. Meanwhile many folks were spending nearly half of their food dollars on restaurants and fast food; 7 percent spent more than a third of their food budget on alcohol.

Once you know where you stand, you can start making your food dollars stretch further, which will probably require changes in what and how you eat — and drink. As you consider the strategies below for reducing food costs, remember that you don’t need to do everything at once. There are three paths to follow: develop a food-efficient diet, keep a food-efficient kitchen, and spend your food dollars as wisely as you can. And even better, you may find that you truly enjoy some of these strategies, which are not only good for your wallet, but also maximize flavor and nutrition.

Follow a Food-efficient Diet

Eat mostly plants. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and grains typically costs 20 percent less than a diet that revolves around meat. From a practical point of view, a thrifty veg-first strategy will take you into a wonderland of inexpensive, protein-rich, and easy-to-store dry beans and peas. If you cook a batch of beans a week, you’ll have the makings for burritos, veggie burgers, salads and soups, all for pennies a serving. Try different kinds: Beans and peas come in a huge range of shapes, colors, sizes and textures. When you find one you love, set some aside to grow in your garden.

Before you cook them, soak beans in water for eight to 24 hours (larger beans can soak longer). As they plump, the beans will release the gases that cause flatulence. Soaked beans can be simmered on the stove or in a crock pot, or you can cook them (very efficiently!) in a pressure cooker in less than 15 minutes. (And you don’t even have to soak the beans. If you start with dry beans, a pressure cooker can have them ready to eat in about half an hour.)

1/4/2016 11:05:50 AM

Wow, I'm 71 and my husband is 60, there's just two of us and we eat on $100.00 a MONTH! It would be a miracle if we had $165.00 a month to spend on groceries!

1/31/2015 10:28:01 AM

I ment to say that I retry my canning jar lids in the food dryer after washing to make them last longer. Pat Crow

1/31/2015 10:25:16 AM

Very useful info. The new canning lids seem to rust after the first use. I now dry mine after washing to make them usable longer. An elderly friend told me that during WWII they would use Brillo to remove rust spots due to the scarcity of metal items. Pat Crow

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